020 – Designing Adventure Card Games with Mike Selinker

For Episode 20 of the Nerdlab, I have had the honor to interview Mike Selinker. A legend in the Game Design industry. He is the brain behind many of the games that inspired me to start my quest as a game designer. Just to mention a few:

  • Pathfinder Adventure Card Game
  • Apocrypha
  • Betrayal at House on the Hill.

Mike spent 8 years of his life designing the first Adventure Card Game and today he is going to share incredible insights into this design process with all of us. It was a blast for me to talk to Mike. We even talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of need and the self-confidence and mindset you need to have as a game designer. I hope you will enjoy the show.

Short summary of some topics we talked about:

  • What is the mindset young game designers need to develop?
  • What is the perfect team size?
  • What is the best way to put your stuff out there?
  • And where the hack is Game Design on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?
  • What is the Afghanistan principle?
  • Design Process of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game
  • World Building and Storytelling in Apocrypha
  • Companion Apps, their purpose and how it was implemented for Apocrypha
  • How to involve the community to create content for your game

Important Links:

Mike Selinker (Twitter)
Lone Shark Games

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Music by Mathew Pablo



  • Hello Marvin and Mike,

    I really like the comment “The Great Music is provided by Bands not Singers”. But nowadays the electronic-side of music created by synthesizers and DJs … Can put out a pretty decent TUNE to compliment a “Future Singing Star”. What I’m saying is that good music in the Top 100 songs weekly, can be artificially created and SOUNDS pretty good. When I say “pretty good” … I mean Billboard Top 100 quality.

    I wish I could work with a 10-20 person Design Studio… I’m in Montreal, Canada… And I’ve not seen such a BUSINESS locally. Yes we have several FLGSs (Friendly Local Game Stores) and Magic Stores (Store for CCGs/TCGs) … And I’ve been to the weekly Board Game Group at one of the Magic Stores… But those are NOT a place to Design, Develop and Market “Board Games” (or in my case “Card Games”).

    As the Moderator for “Board Game Design Forum” (BGDF) … I really think our “community” of Game Designers which is relatively small (about 20 or so regulars). Even so, we still offer great feedback, opinions, ideas and we foster an environment for SHARING. So from the “Design” aspect … The Internet and BGDF are excellent resources for designing your own games.

    However, there don’t seem to be many BUSINESSES that have a “Design Lab” and maybe have a good group of designers that collaborate together and SHARE ideas/feedback and help DEVELOP a “Design” into a REAL game.

    Having gone through the process with Outer Limite Games, LLC as small Publisher… Even with a Team of five (5) members … We’ve had our Kickstarter and gone through all the effort to produce more art/illustrations, produced more options (expansions) for the “core” game… And it’s been a great experience.

    But from a numbers perspective… OLG doesn’t seem to be able to pull together the RESOURCES to have their own Team of members and have them being able to finance such a Team FULL-TIME. And it makes me wonder how well the Delivery of the Game (Shipping to backers) will gives us “Feedback” and RATE our game to encourage more people to be involved with the game. This rating process would be over on “BGG” (Board Game Geek) and if the community likes the game… We hope to have more ONLINE sales in the Fall of 2019.

    The truth of the matter is that OLG will be “breaking even” with “TradeWorlds” … And this means that there is less and less of a desire to TRY to make more games… Which are not making enough SALES. And believe me “TradeWorlds” is a GREAT game. But getting it “OUT-THERE” is a REAL Challenge. That is the real issue… Making money with games is HARD to do.

    Any advice Mike can share… How to make it possible?! What are the steps in making the BUSINESS as success??


    Aka QuestCCG
    Game Designer of “TradeWorlds”
    BGDF Moderator — Publisher List

  • Darn typos: It’s Outer Limit Games, LLC (http://www.outerlimitgames.com)

    My apologies,

    Aka QuestCCG
    Game Designer of “TradeWorlds”
    BGDF Moderator — Publisher List

  • Hi Kristopher,

    Thank you very much for the response and the insight into your experiences with TradeWorlds.

    I would also love to work with a team, but my preferred team size is 4-6. That doesn’t mean that the extended team can’t be bigger. Especially when you outsource some work packages. But for the core team that would be my preferred team size. I am currently looking to put this team together. But as you said, it’s not easy and requires you to talk to a lot of people and take advantage of synergies.
    These synergies are in my eyes what can make your game a success. Not only in terms of gameplay, but also economically. And the opportunities of cooperation go way beyond designers working together on the same game. What I mean is some sort of cluster. A cluster of game designers that not only share their knowledge about how to design a game. But build a raving fanbase….together.
    Let’s take an e-mail list as an example. Everyone should have a solid e-mail list and a (rather large) number of followers before starting a kickstarter campaign. But I don’t see a reason why two (or more) fellow game designers shouldn’t work together to build a fanbase for an entire genre together. When I as a player love playing Adventure Card Games and I would know there is a cluster of game designers that work on these kind of games you can be sure that I would follow them. Our community of game designers is so great and everyone is so helpful when it comes to the design process of games. But I think there is also lot of potential in cooperation with respect to attracting attention from players, reviewers and publishers.


  • Hello Marvin,

    I agree a smaller team is good too. Maybe as you suggest 4 to 6. Mike has a “big crew” (and he’s got a lot of industry experience to be able to handle it). He’s got about 15 people working with him. Like you suggested a team of a few designers would be great.

    Just in terms of “contacting” people in the BIZ. I personally e-mail 60+ businesses in Canada who are either ONLINE or Brick & Mortar stores who have a “web presence”. Out of all of those, I maybe got 10 responses asking for more information and ONLY one (1) sale (a box of 6 units, so $120 CAD). It took me weeks to try to contact these people and then when only one business decided to carry the product… I was a bit disturbed.

    There seems to be a real “disconnect” between how SOME businesses SUCCEED, while others FAIL. Mailing people is not always the solution (as per my example above)… You need a profitable business model which probably has some kind of “recurring” revenue stream. Something to make the meter tick and encourage the players to react (or Act Now!)

    While I am working on my own CCG (“Customizable” Card Game) … I see it making some monies but A>Not enough money as a full-time job B>Maybe re-imbursing all the investment made in my 3 games already published. Since my efforts have not been “cash-flow” positive … We all got to start somewhere and my start was very BAD (when I had little to no Game Design experience). I’m invested financially in Game Design … And would like to get back “into the black” with some measure of REAL SUCCESS. Or like I suggested with B>!

    I’ll add one more example:

    1. If it costs me $100 CAD to produce artwork for ONE (1) CCG card… And it costs me $0.50 to make each card. That means I need to sell about 100 cards at $1.50 each JUST TO BREAK EVEN.

    2. Yes 100 cards sounds reasonably LOW. On purpose, consider the cards that COST $100 CAD for artwork that DON’T SELL!?

    3. My first Game “Quest Adventure Cards” was an average game (4/10) … I sold GLOBALLY to only ONE (1) customer in Mexico! ONE in the ENTIRE WORLD! How is that for a real failure…?

    4. TradeWorlds at the “Explorer” level (“core” pledge) ONLY “breaks-even” in terms of PRICING.

    So all my “ventures” in Game Design are dwindling in the hopes of some future success – which I may never achieve. I agree that making MORE games that are GREAT is … positive. And I am continuing in that vein…

    That’s why I ASKED if Mike can share a bit of his “magic”. What does it take to run a successful DESIGN STUDIO? What are the ways to get Funding for financing a team? I guess the point is that you NEED a business to AT LEAST generate $1M in SALES in order to “afford” having such a team (4-6 designers). How do you achieve this?

    Reiner Knizia said he wanted to become a “millionaire” from his Game Design efforts. Sure making $1M is a lofty goal … But a business handling this is what interests me. Not me as a Independent Designer making $5000 of a KS every 2 years. Someone who knows how to handle a real salary…!


    Aka QuestCCG
    Game Designer of “TradeWorlds”
    BGDF Moderator — Publisher List

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